I’m currently paying attention to Expostulations on the Volcano, a new sequence which makes its first appearance in Hill’s Collected and it appears to contain a more direct exploration of the spiritual and mystical Hill.
Mysticism covers a great multitude of beliefs and activites, previously Hill has wondered out loud about the nature of Spirit and less about the workings of Grace. Expostulations sees him becoming increasingly involved in a particular aspect of the Kabbalah tradition, the Qiphloth. This is Poem 13:
What am I hymning that is not absurd? I have reworked the least of me twelve times For Cabbalistic humours, for the dead, Buoyed by the storm music from Peter Grimes; Fancying myself as a storm-petrel With excellent reflexes and at ease In the burly element I patrol; Tempted by instinct's sinew to be wise. There would be scandal. Let me off my hook Of retrospection; say I was not caught By what I feared: one mere untimely look; It is not nature's way to be distraught. The Secrets of Creative Elements Are not creation; nor do they vault forth Loved-clown-like, but, to exorbitant wants, Protract and retract themselves, mould Qliphoth. As to these pots, frost-broken, white, exposed Roots, tendrils, pebbles. In a mouldered cake, Some would still argue: have the mass composted For as long as deconstruction may take.
I’ve chosen the above because it seems to be at least a partial summary of the current state / condition of Hillian thinking and belief. Before I proceed, I need to point out that my only knowledge of things mystical is due to reading Scholem’s Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism some years ago and forgetting most of it, apart from Plotinus, shortly thereafter. My woes are further compounded by there being a whole range of spellings and definitions for Qliphoth on the interweb so I’m only able to offer my very wobbly grasp on things. In this particular tradition there is a Tree of Life which is a good thing made up of other good things. Qliphtoth is figured by some to be the bark of the tree and by others to be the shell of the nut produced by the tree and is a Very Bad Thing Indeed (evil). Some people apparently think that the Qlippoth is evil because it has been given an over-abundance of good/holiness.
Rather than undertake the usual bebrowed dissection, I think I want to consider the poem in total. What seems to be going on is the fretting over this retrospective hook and the drawing of a couple of conclusions, which may or may not be provisional.
The open. The next aspect is the numbers ‘game’ once we’ve got over the for/four pun, the four being: blood, phlegm, choler, and so-called melancholy or black bile which are in turn associated with hotness, dryness, coldness and moistness all of which were. for about two thousand years, thought to be the most reliable / unly indicators of health. Twelve is more of a problem, according to my brief skim through Major Trends the Tree has only ten components. I like the idea that, prior to the publication of the Day books there were twelve published books of verse. Of course, I want it to refer to the work because that kind of ties in with the end of the poem which is probably trying to say too many thing at once. The ‘reworking the least of me is nearly as good as ‘a sad and angry consolation’, Hill’s definition proffered at the end of The Triumph of Love and will now be used my me to describe my own meanderings. Or it could refer to the months of the years, the signs of the zodiac, the amount of pennies in a shilling and many other things besides.
Being me, I like the ‘exorbitant wants’ partly because it’s the kind of conjuring that his detractors hate but also because it shows the strength in depth that Hill still retains in re-working the language that we hold in common. I talked about clowns and clowning last time and was going to skim over it here but he might be saying something (in retrospect) about the light-comedy entertainer that Hill has, on occasion, aspired to be. A whole range of clown-related cliches come to mind but I do want to get on to the role of evil here and these broken pots and detritus.
Time for another confession, I first cam across Gabriel Marcel in A Precis or Memorandum of Civil Power in the A Treatise of Civil Power which was published in 2007. I found out from the interweb that he was a Christian existentialist and I left it at that. This was a mistake because, with the assistance of the increasingly impressive Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, I’ve found a few things that slip almost neatly into what appears to be Hill’s current world view:
- the world is broken and it may always have been broken but it is made more broken by historical events;
- this brokenness is best characterised in the contemporary world in the refusal, or inability, to reflect or to imagine and the denial of the transcendent;
- this is largely because we have prioritised and technology and this leads us to despair because it has no answer to the ‘bigger’ questions about the philosophical truths:
- we still have a need for transcendence because we feel a degree of dissatisfaction which stems from this functional way of living;
- with regard to transendence itself, Marcel has: “There is an order where the subject finds himself in the presence of something entirely beyond his grasp. I would add that if the word “transcendent” has any meaning it is here—it designates the absolute, unbridgeable chasm yawning between the subject and being, insofar as being evades every attempt to pin it down”;
- Marcel makes a distinction between problem and mystery in that problems can be resolved by technique whereas a mystery is a “problem that encroaches on its own data” such as the relationship between body and soul, the nature of evil, freedom and love.
I’ll readily confess to tearing all of this out of context to suit my own purposes but, as a means of justification, I’d like to use the first few lines from part I of A Precis:
Could so have managed not to be flinging down this challenge. True way is homeless but the better gods go with the house. Cogito a bare threshold as G Marcel sagely declares, of what's valid. Come round to the idea, even so belated and knock. Echo the answer in spare strophes that yield almost nothing to the knowledge outside them raw with late wisdom.
Now, might this be a precis of the above lines of thought? Might this reveal a late acceptance of said line? Are the Day Books in part a working through of this acceptance? I, of course want to answer all of these in the affirmative because Hill’s disdain for the functional in this broken world does seem in the later work to march in step with an exploration of the transcendent.
Of cause this is tentative, subjective and provisional. I know I read something recently about Hill’s view of the relationship between the political and the mystical, once I’ve dug it out I may well change my mind. I am however particularly fond of these spare strophes that are said to be raw with late wisdom. Wonderful.
Marcel is a great resource for a rather coherent episteme that I agree Hill draws on, or lives by. I’ve returned to Marcel after reading him in the 60s– yes, his thought is still fresh. I think Hill dramatized the modern minds perplexity as it grapples with realities of the Metaxy,, the sense of being as a mystery that permeates us as creatures, very Marcelian really.